Are Vols More Experienced Than Expected?

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    Photo Credit: Mason Burgin/RTI

    Much of the talk this offseason about Tennessee’s upcoming 2017 squad has been about the relative inexperience the team has. Gone are multi-year starters and contributors such as Josh Dobbs, Derek Barnett, Alvin Kamara, Cam Sutton, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Josh Malone, Corey Vereen, Malik Foreman, LaTroy Lewis, and others. Now new starters must emerge.

    Data compiled by statistician and analyst Phil Steele so far this offseason has proven the Vols are going to be replacing almost all of their offensive skill position players but do have a solid amount of experience returning on the defensive side of the ball from last year. Overall, that would appear to make the 2017 Vols a mixed bag of experience and youth, somewhere in the middle of the pack when it comes to having a truly experienced roster.

    But Steele’s latest findings seem to think differently.

    According to Steele’s “two deep class breakdown,” the Vols may be more experienced than expected. Steele broke down each FBS team’s depth chart and listed how many starters and backups each team had by class.

    “To formulate a point system,” Steele writes, “I awarded 3 points for every senior starter (2.5 for every additional senior in the two deep) 2 points for every junior starter (1.5 for every additional junior in the two deep) 1 point for a sophomore starter (0.5 for every additional soph in the two deep) then subtracted 1 point for every frosh starter and .5 for every frosh in the two deep.”

    And with that formula, the Vols are tied with five other schools for the 22nd-most experienced two-deep depth chart in the country.

    The data claims the Vols will have 10 senior starters, 10 junior starters, one sophomore starter, and one freshman starter. Only Missouri (tied for 11th) and Georgia (21st) have a more experienced roster in the SEC according to this formula.

    Does this mean Tennessee has a more experienced roster than expected for the 2017 season? Not necessarily, no.

    This data is based on projection, first of all. It’s unclear who Steele has pegged as starters for the Vols, but he’s leaning more towards a senior and junior-heavy starting squad. That could very well be the case for Tennessee, but the Vols could also end up starting a redshirt freshman at quarterback, another freshman (and sophomore) on the offensive line, two sophomore receivers, and a few more sophomores on defense. If that ends up happening, that would change Steele’s numbers significantly.

    Not only that, but aside from the offensive line, many of the seniors and juniors Steele has projected as likely starters don’t have many career starts.

    Kendall Vickers and Ethan Wolf have the most experience outside of the offensive line starters. Wolf has made 34 career starts and Vickers has made 25. But every other junior and senior who isn’t an offensive lineman has made 19 or fewer starts in their Tennessee career.

    Starts aren’t everything, however. Todd Kelly Jr. only has 15 career starts to his name, but Vol fans feel comfortable with what the senior brings and know what to expect from him. Fans also know what to expect from senior Emmanuel Moseley even though he’s made just 19 starts over three seasons.

    The Vols may have a slightly more experienced defense than expected this year, but the offense is still going to be almost completely different from last season. Tennessee has plenty of three and four-year players on the roster, but not all of them have been full-time starters before this season.

    Youth and inexperience won’t be an excuse for the 2017 Vols. But this roster is less experienced than last year’s, and Tennessee will have many new starters this fall compared to last year.

    Nathanael Rutherford is the managing editor and social media manager for Rocky Top Insider. Nathanael graduated from the University of Tennessee and cultivated a passion for the Vols while growing up in Knoxville a mere 10 minutes from Neyland Stadium. He's been a part of the RTI team since November of 2015 and has been the editor of RTI since June of 2017. If he's not talking or writing about Tennessee athletics, he's probably talking about Star Wars.